H.O.P.E. ~ hands-on outdoor place-based education ~ integrates the environment into existing curricula and is a pedagogy for stewardship. A venue for this pedagogy is the outdoor classroom.
An outdoor classroom is a natural or designed landscape directly outside the school building that serves as a context for teaching formal standards-based and informal education in all the disciplines. It can be a woodland, meadow, an edible garden, rain garden, pollinator garden, trail or flower pots.
Outdoor classrooms do not change the curriculum, but offer educators the opportunity to weave nature into their existing curriculum and connect their students with the local landscape and diverse ecological community.
by Lieberman and Hoody
Research quantifies the impacts of outdoor classrooms on academic achievement.
Studying children in 40 schools in 12 states, research confirmed academic performance improved across the curriculum, critical thinking skills improved, students became aware of diverse viewpoints, discipline problems diminished and problem-solving proficiency improved through enhanced application of systems thinking.
Beyond academic achievement, students' understanding of the world became more comprehensive, they formed connections between personal and planetary health and became more aware of ecological concepts through hands-on learning.
Ancillary and more subjective impacts of outdoor classrooms were increased enthusiasm for learning and teaching, improved health from edible gardens, increased attendance and improved school relationships.
Outdoor classrooms enhance academic performance and ecological literacy and are being implemented in schools throughout the US and abroad.
In the US, the Green Schools National Network www.gsnn.org, the Children and Nature Network www.C&NN.org Green Schoolyards America www.greenschoolsamerica.org are among the sponsors of this innovative approach to learning and living on a finite planet.
“When one asks why no rules have been written, one is told that the community is not yet ready to support them; education must precede rules. But the education actually in progress makes no mention of obligations to land over and above those dictated by self-interest." Aldo Leopold
Initiatied by the Land Trust of Bucks County, an Outdoor Classroom Project is under way at the Bucks County Intermediate Unit School #22 at the Samuel Everitt School in Levittown. All classrooms at the Samuel Everitt school are Alternative Classrooms serving populations for emotional support, autistic support and multiple disabilities.
The Samuel Everitt school population is kindergarten through age 21 and serves students from Centennial, Neshaminy, Bristol Township, Bristol Borough and Bensalem School Districts.
This project is divided into three phases and is supported and planned by a team that includes the school principal, students, educators, administrators, school social worker, facilities staff, landscape architect and horticulture students, coordinator/fundraiser and LTBC staff.
Phase 1 - Flagpole Garden
This presentation garden serves two of the LTBC intiatives, Landscapes for Biodiversity and Outdoor Classrooms. The Flagpole Garden will be comprised of native plants and will demonstrate a landscape for biodiversity.
As an outdoor classroom, three teachers are involved in the planning and use of the Flagpole Garden along with the designers and consultants for the project. Students involved in the use of the Phase 1 Garden are from classes for multiple disabilities, transitions for job preparedness and emotional support.
This outdoor classroom will serve teachers who are developing educational programming in math, science, social skills, literacy and earth science. The academic programs designed for this garden are intended to build and grow the school community through multiple class participation and collaboration. Finalization of Phase 1 is scheduled for late fall 2017.
A larger outdoor classroom will be constructed in a fenced space between the school and the forest, adjacent to the administration office. The outdoor classroom, still in the early planning stage, will be designed to accommodate many uses and increase the number of participating classrooms. Phase 2 is scheduled to commence Spring 2018.
An edible garden will be constructed with raised beds directly outside the rear door of the school in an abandoned swing set bed. A large swing set frame will serve as a trellis. This garden will supply food for the students and offer ample experience tending soil, identifying plants and growing, harvesting and preparing fresh foods. The edible garden will be another team and community-building garden engaging multiple classrooms in collaboration.
Phase 3 is scheduled for Spring 2018. Samuel Everitt is an ESY (extended school year) school, so there will be plenty of hands to work in the edible garden during the growing season.